Banting: the fuss in a nutshell

2014-07-14 15:29

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So, everyone’s ranting about Banting.

Well, everyone advanced beyond the first level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that is.

The business of health is not unlike society’s latest popular organised religion, with banting considered a new straight and narrow of sorts.

“To carb or not to carb,” asked folk queuing behind me at the Labia Cinema the other day. It was the opening night of the Encounters Documentary Film Festival and we had just watched The Square, a riveting chronicle of Egypt’s political trouble from Hosni Mubarak to Mohamed Morsi.

But these people’s talk centred on Tim Noakes rather than Tahrir Square; it was fuelled by cauliflower mash and slathered in cream.

So what is the fuss about? Bizarrely, the Banting diet was named after a pudgy British funeral undertaker and coffin maker William Banting (1796-1878), who managed to shake off a few pounds by cutting out carbs. He wrote a pamphlet outlining his new eating plan, with beer, potatoes, bread and sugar banned from the menu.

In 2012, former “carb loading” proponent UCT Professor Tim Noakes popularised the Banting diet in South Africa in a spectacular u-turn in views.

Noakes said he adopted the diet himself after he was diagnosed with carbohydrate intolerance in 2011 – a condition derived from defective insulin in the body – and then felt compelled to share his experience (while disgruntled academic peers grumbled that his findings were untested).

His book The Real Meal Revolution offers recipes comprising mostly leafy vegetables, protein, nuts, fat and cheese; sugar is the new devil and carbs are shunned. He claims that consumption of animal fats such as butter and cream keep hunger pangs at bay for longer.

On the scientific side, sufficient carb deprivation leads the body into ketosis, a chemical fat-burning process that causes weight loss.

Detractors point out that all the fats in the diet will clog your arteries. Disciples say they’ve never felt better. Meanwhile, sprawling Facebook groups are abuzz with Banters trading recipes for cabbage leaves smothered in cheese and rump steaks fried in coconut oil and cream.

The holy grail of Banting is cauliflower mash, a substitute for mashed potatoes. In fact, micro-economic observers confirm a new cauliflower scarcity and subsequent price surge in the wake of the roaring cult of Banting.

In Cape Town, trendy Loop Street eatery Eat with Emma is churning out traditional bobotie dishes but without helpings of rice, while the Banting Kitchen is scheduled to open at the seven-star Cape Royale Hotel in September. A press release says the new restaurant will specialise in “weight-watchers cuisine” and will serve the “finest renditions of the Banting-inspired concept”.

The hype is everywhere; it has even penetrated the slumbering N2 town of Swellendam. A friend who recently stopped for lunch at The Blue Crane Farm stall in Swellies couldn’t help but notice the “Banting here we go Tim Noakes breakfast!” option. It consists of an omelette fried in butter and coconut oil, topped with bacon, avocado and cheese. Wow.

Meanwhile, the debate continues in academic corridors. Last week, a new study by Stellenbosch University scientists lashed out at low-carb diets, saying their effects could be harmful in the long run.

We all know that moderation is about as cheerless as a banker’s socks, but it really appears to be science’s best answer here.

Personally, I prefer my carbs cold and wet and laced with hops.

Did someone just say beer-o’clock?

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